Wednesday, June 16, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: April 1965, part 1


Sue has been thinking about her late dad—killed a few issues earlier by the Skrulls. She wants whomever is responsible for the murder brought to justice.

Well, when your boyfriend is Reed Richards, catching a killer who is on another planet just might be possible. Reed borrows a rocket from NASA and rigs it with warp drive. Soon, the FF is on their way to the Skrull home world.

But once there, they abruptly discover that the atmosphere reduces their super powers to virtually nothing. Reed has to pretend to sell out mankind in order to build a power amplifier to give them their powers back. In the meantime, there’s some political intrigue going on between the Skrull Emperor and an ambitious warlord (who’s also the guy who got Sue’s dad killed). In the end, the warlord is killed, but Sue saves the Emperor’s daughter and earns the FF a Get Off the Skrull Home World Free card.

It’s strong, straightforward storytelling with some good characterizations and a lot of Kirby-designed alien creatures, weapons and vehicles. I especially like a line of dialogue that gives us some insight into Ben. During the trip through space, Ben is (as usual) joking about Reed’s explanation of the warp drive and acting like he doesn’t understand. Reed replies “Ben, you old phoney, as an ex-test pilot, you probably know more about all this than any of us do!”


A couple of great Spidey character moments pop up in this issue. At one point, he loses a chance to follow a suspicious person because he’s not wearing his costume under his clothes. It was still wet from his having washed it the night before.

Also, later on, he’s fighting a room full of mobsters. He jumps into an adjoining room and webs the door shut. While the mobsters are breaking the door down, Peter takes a moment to phone Aunt May and let her know he’ll be home late.

Anyway, the main plot involves the Green Goblin trying to take over a local mob and set himself up as crime boss of New York. Spider Man ends up getting involved. That leads first to that fight with mobsters. Then there’s a fight with the Goblin. As usual, Ditko’s handles the action superbly. There’s a neat twist at the end involving Goblin’s plans to get the mob leader arrested so he can take over.

There’s also some Peter/Betty stuff, in which Peter suspects she still has a thing for Ned Leeds. And Frederick Foswell—a Bugle reporter who had run a crime syndicate back in issue #10—gets paroled. Jameson hires him back to get good publicity, but Spidey suspects he may still be involved in the mob shenanigans. This is a plot thread that will play out over the next couple of issues.


The Mad Thinker, out for revenge, builds a super strong bouncing ball (about the size of a bowling ball) that flies and shoots out jets of frigid air (to put out Johnny’s flames).

It attacks Ben and Johnny while they’re at the dedication for a new dam. So the two heroes must save the dam after it is damaged as well as defeat the ball. An interesting twist (though not an uncommon one for Marvel Comics from this era) arises when the designer of the dam risks his life to help. Stan Lee did that from time to time—having an regular guy act heroically when the chips are down.

Dr. Strange, in the meantime, is still on the run from Baron Mordo and his minions. Trapped in Hong Kong, he uses both magic and his fists to fight past some thugs. Getting aboard a plane, he has an invisible fight with another of Mordo’s minions right over the head of the other unsuspecting passengers. It ends with Strange escaping Mordo for the moment, but he still doesn’t know his arch enemy is getting extra power from Dormammu. As with the Hulk, Stan Lee is demonstrating a real skill for serial storytelling. (In fact, extended plot threads and multi-part stories are starting to pop up in Fantastic Four and Spider Man as well.)

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll visit with Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

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